Going back to university as a mature student: All the things I wish I'd known

Now for one of those slightly different posts I promised you earlier this week. (See, I do write about other things than vegan food.) As I'm just entering the fourth (fourth!) year of my degree, nearly twenty (twenty!) years after I finished the first, I thought I'd do a wee post for anyone else thinking of going into further education as mature student, whether it's for the first time or for a rerun.

Here are the things I wished I knew before I started a degree as a mature student.

1. You won't be made to feel old
I thought being surrounded by people in their late teens would make me feel, frankly, ancient - after all, I was nearly half way through my life when they were being born. I thought I'd stick out a bit, and people would shout 'where's your bus pass, grandma?' Initially, I tried to hide my age, so as not to feel like the odd one out. Happily, once I did share the dreaded number with a few of my colleagues, no one cared in the slightest (apart from the odd joke about 'did they have computers when you were young?'). There's also a great cultural exchange between my Millenial colleagues and Gen X me: I've been able to fill them in on things like Cockney rhyming slang and Aretha Franklin, they've filled me in on how to use Tinder and who Chet Faker is. Everyday's a school day as a mature student, whether you're in the classroom or not.

2. You won't be the only one
See above for fears of being the only resident oldie, and the only person to have had some semblance of a career. There were quite a few people in their 30s on my course, and even rumoured to be people in their 40s in other years. I've met people from all sorts of work backgrounds too: people from the military to professional musicians, former scientists and engineers to people who'd worked in sexual health. (I also met one guy who told me he couldn't tell me about the nature of his job due to its secretive government nature, but he could have been pulling my leg about that).

3. You can still work while you study
A lot of the students I know, whether mature or standard-issue students, have jobs during term time or the summer holidays. Whether it's working down the local bar or gym for the younger students to freelancing in their former career or something similar, a lot of people seem to find it possible to combine a full time degree and a part time job. If you've got work that you can increase or decrease your shifts as exams and deadlines allow, so much the better, but some smart folk manage to work the year through. I've managed to work through the first three years of my degree, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed I can carry on for the next two, as living in London on just your student loan is pretty miserable.

4. You don't have to turn up to everything
There's something about paying upwards of £9000 a year for the privilege of your degree that makes you want to turn up to every lecture, every tutorial, every extra session and visiting professor's talk, before spending a couple of hours in the library. Don't feel you have to go to absolutely everything on offer - sometimes just spending time at home going over your notes is way more value for money than trying to squeeze in a few minutes of extra credit type work.

5. You need to schedule time in for fun
Yep, this is horrendous, and hopefully you're the sort of person that definitely doesn't need to do this. Sadly, I am. I spend so many hours working for my degree that sometimes I let it become all encompassing and don't leave the house for days unless my other half reminds me to get out from under the books and go see daylight. I've managed to lifehack my way around this one: I just put the necessary fun time into my planner, and because I'm lost without said planner, I have to follow its wise guidance on this matter.

6. You'll have secret superpowers
Now that's something I didn't think I'd be saying of myself when I signed up to do another degree, but some days, that's what it feels like. There are lot of things I know I'd be struggling with if I was doing this degree at 18 - talking in class (hey, I was a very shy 18 year old!), meeting new people, giving presentations in front of a room of hundreds. Now though, they don't terrify me like they once would have done. (18-year-old me would have struggled with a lot of the public speaking - or just speaking - but I bet she she could have bounced through the 12 hour revision marathons without looking like death at the end of it. Damn your teenage metabolism, past version of me!)

7. You won't regret it
There are have been days when I've fancied chucking in the towel and going back to earning a proper living. Well, a living. Well, something a bit like a living. Sometimes when another essay, exam, or general 'could do better' lands on your desk, you just want to flip university off and storm out clicking your fingers. Then, you take a deep breath, get your head down and get on with it - and at some point later, you'll be so, so glad you did. Going back to university isn't easy, it isn't cheap, and some days, it doesn't even seem sensible, but if you really want to do it,  you'll be so glad you signed up for that degree.


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  1. It's so interesting to read about the experience of a mature student and it's so good to know it's positive. I'm only 23 now and just graduated and also found that age didn't really matter at university. One of the best friends I made is in his late 40s. Also I think it's really impressive you have managed to work for all three years next to your degree!

  2. This is a great post. I am one of those people who kept studying, and studying, and studying after finishing school with no gap years between school and my initial degree and postgraduate degrees - so I am in complete awe of those of you who go back after leaving study and (in most cases) building greater financial responsibilities. I love study, but it is easier when you haven't done other things first. You show it's entirely possible though!

  3. As someone who survived medicine as a mature-age student, this is all very familiar. I also thoroughly agree with points 6 and 7. I too was terribly shy at university first time round, and thank god by my late 20s I stopped caring so much about what people thought. I had a vastly better time as a student as a consequence!

    It's also nice that there are more of us going into medicine a bit later, with a bit more life experience and generally more sanguine about things. When my mum did medicine age 30 in the early '90s she was pretty much on her own with gauche 18 year olds.

  4. I did a degree as a mature age student and found that I was more able to speak up in class than I could when straight out of school and that was satisfying but I studied part time while working full time and it was so tiring that I gladly took the credits offered even though the subjects seemed interesting. I confess I did get a bit sick of the young people's attitudes at times and I think I was far more of a swot than them. But I generally got along with my fellow students. Glad you have no regrets with your studies - sounds like you are getting a lot out of them and I think there is a lot to be said for changing career and adding the experience of one career to another!


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